Avoid the TV licence scam

Chris Torney / 26 September 2016

If you receive an email saying you’re entitled to a refund on your last licence payment, it could be a scam.

Police are warning people to watch out for a new type of scam which involves victims being asked to reclaim money they have supposedly overpaid on their TV Licence.

Action Fraud, the police’s national crime reporting service, says there has recently been a sharp rise in the number of “phishing” attacks that appear to involve the TV Licensing service.

How these attacks work

Phishing emails are sent by fraudsters to thousands of addresses with the intention of persuading at least some recipients to divulge personal information such as bank details.

They are designed to appear as if they come from bona fide companies; typically banks or government departments such as HM Revenue & Customs. 

The message might say there is a problem with a bank account or that the recipient is due a tax refund. There will then be a link to a website for the victim to sign into their account and provide financial information.

However, the website – despite appearing authentic – is a front for the criminals, who use it to steal personal information. 

This can then be used to empty bank accounts, or to fraudulently apply for credit in the victim’s name.

Seven ways criminals get personal information

How the TV Licensing scam operates

With the new TV Licensing fraud, potential victims get an email that appears to come from “TV License” – although the official organisation is known as TV Licensing and the correct spelling for the document itself is “TV Licence”. (Poor spelling and grammar is very common in phishing attacks so always be on the lookout for any errors.)

The message says that the recipient is entitled to a refund on a portion of their last licence payment, and adds that due to “invalid account details records” [sic] this is unable to be processed automatically. As a result, individuals have to click through a link to a “refund form” and fill in their bank account and credit card details.

Anyone who does this is effectively giving the fraudsters all the information they need to make a transaction with the victim’s card, as well as making it much easier for them to steal from the victim’s bank account.

It is possible that this particular scam could affect older people to a greater degree due to the fact that the over-75s no longer have to buy TV Licences: anyone who has recently passed their 75th birthday and receives one of these emails could be more likely to believe it is genuine.

Do you qualify for a free TV licence?

Protect yourself from scams

The best form of protection from phishing attacks is a suspicious mind: if you get an unsolicited email, even if it appears to be from a company you have an existing relationship with, always be cautious.

Banks do not ask customers to log into their accounts via links in emails, nor does HM Revenue & Customs. 

If an email says there is a problem with your account or any other financial matter, call the company or organisation in question on a number that you get from another source – such as previous written correspondence or the back of your bank card – to check whether there actually is a problem.

Sadly, if an email arrives offering you free money, it is almost invariably a scam.

Five signs that something is a scam

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.